Tender, fluffy brioche bread with ribbons of rich dark chocolate filling and sticky sweet simple syrup coating, this Sourdough Chocolate Babka will be your new favorite indulgence. Using sourdough starter makes for a really flavorful brioche, while coating the baked babka with simple syrup keeps the babka tasting fresh and moist for days.
Sponsored by Imperial Sugar
- Using a sweet stiff starter
- Naturally leavened brioche
- What you need
- Step-by-step instructions
- How to shape a babka
- Frequently Asked Questions
Recipe Box Series
This Sourdough Chocolate Babka recipe is part of my Recipe Box Series with Imperial Sugar. Each month, I’ll be releasing familiar recipes made with a sourdough twist. You can look forward to comforting classics like Sourdough Sticky Buns, Sourdough Fudge Brownies, Apple Pie with Sourdough Crust, Sourdough Pumpkin Bundt Cake and Sourdough Monkey Bread.
Sugar imparts flavor, texture, moisture, and without it, it would be impossible to make our favorite bakes.
Imperial Sugar Extra Fine Granulated Sugar tenderizes dough resulting in an incredibly soft crumb and it also sweetens the chocolate filling. To top it all off, drizzling simple syrup over the still-warm baked loaf keeps gives the babka sticky sweet coating that will keeps it tasting fresher for longer.
I’m so grateful to Imperial Sugar for making the Recipe Box Series possible and so proud to be partnering with a company with such a long tradition of producing high-quality products. Imperial Sugar products are 100% pure cane sugar, non-GMO and provide consistently delicious results.
Using a sweet stiff starter
This recipe uses a sweet stiff starter. Stiff starters use a lower ratio of water than the usual 100% hydration starter. These types of starters are commonly used in pastry recipes that proof slower than lean doughs. Adding a little bit of sugar to the starter creates osmotic stress which limits the production of bacteria that causes acidity in sourdough. This results in babka without a sour flavor even with a longer fermentation period.
Naturally leavened brioche
This Sourdough Chocolate Babka is heavily enriched with sugar, milk, eggs and butter. These ingredients can slow fermentation down drastically, so it’s important to make sure your starter is very active. Expect your dough to take longer than usual to rise (at least 6 hours). I’ll be giving time cues here but make sure you watch out for signs of fermentation, you should see a noticeable increase in volume and your dough should feel airy and bubbly.
Even with all the enrichments in this dough, I was still able to mix this dough by hand. The trick to mixing this dough is to let it rest before kneading. Coating your work surface with a little bit of oil instead of flour will make kneading much easier.
Yes! If you’re not comfortable with handling overly sticky doughs, you can use a mixer.
Combine the all-purpose flour, cornstarch, sweet stiff starter, eggs, milk, eggs and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix until your dough appears cohesive, add butter in one tablespoon at a time. Continue mixing for 5 minutes until the butter has been absorbed and the dough looks smooth.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 15 minutes. Turn the dough out on a lightly-oiled work surface, lightly knead the dough with the base of your palm until the dough looks completely smooth and supple (about 2 to 3 minutes).
What you need
- All-purpose flour - Low protein content of all-purpose flour imparts a really soft and tender texture to your brioche
- Cornstarch - Impedes gluten development which imparts a fluffy texture to this loaf
- Sweet stiff starter - Main leavener for this recipe, adding a little bit of sugar to your starter, impedes bacterial activity which reduces the sour flavor of the brioche
- Milk - Main source of moisture, tenderizes dough resulting in a softer, creamier loaf
- Butter - Adds fat which imparts richness, flavor and softness to the bread
- Eggs - Adds richness, softness and helps bread rise higher and brown better
- Imperial Sugar Extra Fine Granulated Sugar - Tenderizes the crumb, adds sweetness to the filling and keeps the baked loaf tasting fresher for longer
- Salt - Supports gluten structure and intensifies the flavor of the other ingredients in the loaf
- Vanilla extract - Enhances the flavor of chocolate in the filling
- Dark chocolate - Use good quality 60 to 78% dark chocolate
- Heavy cream - High milk fat of heavy cream allows the filling to set properly, don’t use half and half or whole milk, or your filling may be too runny
- Cocoa powder - Intensifies chocolate flavor, adds a lovely bitterness that balances the sweet filling
- Walnuts - Adds a lovely texture to the babka filling, optional but recommended
- Kitchen scale - More accurate way to measure your ingredients
- Pullman pan - High sides of this pan results in a taller loaf (a regular loaf pan will work just as well but your loaf will be shorter and wider)
- Rolling pin - To roll out your dough
- Offset spatula - To spread out the filling
- Instant read thermometer - Helps determine whether your dough has fully baked
- Cooling rack - Let’s air circulate completely around your loaf while it cools, prevents the bottom of your dough from becoming soggy
- Make your sweet stiff starter and let it rise overnight
- Make the dough, cover with a plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 1 hour
- Turn the dough out on a lightly-oiled work surface and knead gently using the base of your palm
- Round the dough into a tight ball, place it in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap
- Let the dough rise until doubled in volume, about 6 to 8 hours
- Deflate the dough, cover with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator overnight
- Make the chocolate filling, let it cool before proceeding
- Flatten dough out into a 8 by 10 inch rectangle, spread an even layer of filling over dough
- Shape the babka and place the dough into a parchment-lined loaf pan. Cover the pan with plastic wrap
- Let the dough rise until puffy and doubled in volume
- Bake the loaf at 350 F for 35 to 40 minutes
Or until the internal temperature of the loaf measures 180 to 200 F when probed with an instant-read thermometer
- Make the simple syrup. Poke holes all over the baked babka, pour syrup over warm babka
How to shape a babka
Shaping a babka is really easy, if you have trouble shaping sticky dough, refrigerate your rolled dough for 15 minutes before cutting (step 3) and twisting (step 4)
- Spread filling over dough
2. Roll the dough into a tight cylinder
3. Split the dough lengthwise
4. Twist the dough portions together
Sourdough Chocolate Babka
Sweet Stiff Starter
- 14 grams 1 tablespoon sourdough starter, unfed
- 60 grams ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 28 grams 2 tablespoons water
- 12 grams 1 tablespoon Imperial Sugar Light Brown Sugar
- 285 grams 2 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
- 15 grams 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 116 grams ½ cup sweet stiff starter
- 100 grams 2 large eggs
- 56 grams ¼ cup whole milk
- 5 grams 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 50 grams ¼ cup Imperial Sugar Granulated Sugar
- 70 grams 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 75 grams ⅓ cup heavy cream
- 50 grams 3 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
- 25 grams 3 ½ tablespoons Dutch Processed cocoa powder
- 50 grams ¼ cup Imperial Sugar Granulated Sugar
- 56 grams 4 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 5 grams 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 25 grams ¼ cup walnuts, finely chopped
- 66 grams ⅓ cup Imperial Sugar Granulated Sugar
- 75 grams ⅓ cup water
- Activate sweet stiff starter: The night before, mix the sourdough starter, all-purpose flour, water and brown sugar in a container. Cover and set in a warm place overnight, or at least 8 hours.
- Make the dough: Combine all-purpose flour, cornstarch, sweet stiff starter, milk, eggs and sugar in a large bowl and stir until all the flour is hydrated. Knead the butter into the dough one tablespoon at a time. Continue kneading until the butter has been absorbed and the dough no longer feels greasy. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest for 1 hour.
- Strengthen the dough: Coat a clean work surface with a light layer of oil. Turn your dough out onto your work surface. Gently knead the dough with the base of your palms about 5 to 10 times, or until the dough feels smooth and elastic. You don’t want to build too much strength in your dough or your babka will end up too tough.
- First rise: Gather your dough into a tight ball and place it inside a clean lightly-oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled in volume, about 6 to 8 hours (this could be longer, pay attention to the increase in volume).
- Cold proof: Deflate the dough and gather it into a tight ball. Cover with plastic wrap and place the dough into the refrigerator for an overnight rest.
- Make the filling: Combine the chocolate, sugar, cocoa powder and butter in a small mixing bowl. Set aside. Heat the cream up in a small saucepan over medium heat until it begins to simmer (don't let it boil over), about 5 minutes. Pour the cream over the chocolate mixture and let it sit for 2 minutes or until the chocolate and butter begins to soften. Stir the mixture with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until all the ingredients are fully combined. Set aside and let the mixture cool completely.
- Fill the dough: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, flatten the dough out into a 10 by 14 inch rectangle (it doesn’t have to be exact). Spread all of your chocolate filling over the dough, sprinkle an even layer of walnuts over the chocolate (if using).
- Shape your babka: Starting with the longer side of the rectangle, roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Using a sharp knife, slice the dough lengthwise into two equal portions. Twist the two portions of dough together. Gently place the dough into a loaf pan lined with parchment paper.
- Final rise: Cover the loaf pan with plastic wrap and let it rise until it appears puffy and has doubled in volume, about 3 to 4 hours.
- Bake: Once your dough is almost ready, preheat your oven to 350 F. Bake your loaf for 35 to 40 minutes or until it has browned and the internal temperature registers at 180 to 200 F when probed with an instant read thermometer.
- Make the syrup: Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Swirl and heat until the sugar has fully dissolved, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Finish loaf: While your loaf is still warm, poke holes all while inside the loaf pan using a bamboo skewer or a small knife. Pour the simple syrup all over the loaf. Let the syrup soak for 10 minutes. Transfer the loaf to a cooling rack and let it cool for at least 30 minutes.
- Serve and store: Serve the babka while still warm or at room temperature. Store leftover slices in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
- Instructions for freezing: Wrap slices in foil and freeze for up to a month. Let the slices defrost at room temperature before serving.
Frequently Asked Questions
Brioche is a form of bread that’s enriched with butter, milk, eggs and sugar. This recipe calls for a brioche dough that then gets filled with chocolate and shaped like a traditional babka.
Not giving your dough enough time to ferment or rise is the most common reason babka turns out tough. Make sure you see signs of fermentation before ending your first rise or baking your loaf.
Another reason is not building enough strength into your dough. Babka dough doesn’t need to be too “strong,” but it still needs to be able to hold onto the carbon dioxide released by yeast. Make sure your dough at least looks smooth and does not tear after you knead it.
Babka can be served warm or at room temperature. I try to refrain from refrigerating babka (and bread in general) since bread has a tendency to dry out in the refrigerator.
Babka should be rich, soft and tender, it won’t be as airy as a sourdough loaf but it should not be dense or hard either.
Due to all the enrichments added to babka dough, it can be a bit sticky. If you find that your dough is too difficult to handle, try letting your dough rest for half an hour before kneading.
This recipe was originally published in Sept. 2018 and updated in 2021 with a reformulated recipe, volume measures, step-by-step photos and instructions.
Hortense Duett says
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Make It Dough says
So glad the information is helpful to you!!
Madie Gangestad says
Appreciate it for all your efforts that you have put in this. very interesting information.
I made this incredible babka 2 times. First time I doubled the recipe and had so much sweet starter left over I saved it in the refrigerator, then made a third loaf four days later with it. Neither time did I get much of a rise over night in the fridge, but both times a four hour final rise in the pan worked beautifully, and then a final big rise in the oven. Thank you for this wonderful recipe and excellent directions!
Make It Dough says
I'm so glad it worked for you and great that you made adjustments that fit what you were working with in your kitchen!
Make It Dough says
What about using walnuts instead of hazelnuts, because that is what I have on hand.
Make It Dough says
Any type works!
Hello! I have tried 2 of your recipes and I love it. I wanted to try this on but hesitant since it is called for a food processor. Is it possible to use a stand mixer for this? Thank you!
Make It Dough says
Thank you! Glad you're loving the recipes ❤️. You can totally use a mixer or even mix by hand if you're comfortable with handling wet doughs.
Athena Engel says
I’m starting the sweet stiff levain for this tonight. I dislike altering recipes, especially when this looks so amazingly perfect. However, my husband is allergic to nuts and doesn’t care for dark chocolate. Do you think this would be good with semi sweet chocolate and minus the nuts? Also, is the chocolate just finely chopped? Hopefully I’m not getting ahead of myself by making the sweet levain tonight. Thank you very much for your wonderful recipes!
Make It Dough says
Making the stiff levain the night before would be absolutely fine! Subbing with semi sweet would also work really well and totally fine without nuts. Yes, chop the chocolate and yes your ground cardamom question as well. Can't wait to hear what you think.